Cheers to Manatee-Sarasota's surging sports industry

February 25, 2014 

Manatee County continues to make impressive gains in the sports world, particularly on the business friendly side.

As far as economic impact goes, the revelation that the Manatee River will host a powerboat race in 2015 is the biggest news of this past weekend.

As far as the community goes, Southeast High School's victory in the state championship of girls basketball ranks as the best news.

Yes, indeed, congratulations to the Seminoles women for their 52-35 win over the Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee on Saturday in Lakeland, their first state title since 1990, coach John Harder's third at Southeast and the school's fourth overall. This 30-1 team will be long exalted.

Powerboat racing fans and casual observers will be in for a treat with the announcement that Formula 2 vessels will zip along the Manatee River next January in a major free festival that will no doubt pack Riverwalk and other shore spots with spectators.

Pittsburgh-based Integrated Strategic Marketing USA will bring a downsized rendition of its Pittsburgh Three River Regatta here, a surefire boost for hotels, restaurants and other businesses. The festival will also feature BMX stunt shows with nationally known athletes, fireworks, sand sculptures and what has been called a major concert.

The benefits will be long-lasting as Bradenton becomes home to a regular circuit stop on Powerboat Superleague racing as the organization speeds toward the national championship in Pittsburgh.

The city's ties to that Pennsylvania city continue to bear fruit.

That was very evident with Saturday's Pittsburgh Pirate Pep Rally downtown in advance of spring training games at McKechnie Field, a gem of a baseball park expanded and renovated in time for last year's games.

The Pirates have long been valued by the community as an outstanding citizen, one that invests in the community with grants to help build public assets and assist children as well as boosting the ballpark's neighborhood economy.

After a winning 2013 baseball season and playoff appearance after 20 years of losing records, the Pirates celebrated along Old Main Street with a large crowd Saturday -- "the biggest since I've been here," remarked club President Frank Coonelly, a Pirate since 2007.

In other sports developments over the weekend, Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota will host the 2014 Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final from June 4-8. The Sarasota Polo Grounds, located in Lakewood Ranch, will be home to four of the five pentathlon events while the Selby Aquatic Center will host the swimming competition.

The event changed dates and then venues because of a conflict with an already scheduled sports competition at Nathan Benderson Park -- the Sunshine State Games rowing events, another sign of the region's growing muscle in the sports world.

This past weekend also witnessed another rowing event at Benderson, the Sarasota Invitational Regatta. The first big race of the rowing season attracted clubs from around the country at Benderson Park for top-notch competition.

While clubs from Florida comprised the majority of entries, rowers also came from around the nation -- as far away as New Hampshire and Washington state.

All this comes fresh on the heels of Major League Soccer holding preseason games at IMG Academy just weeks ago for the first time. Hopes are high that Bradenton will become a regular destination for MLS teams and preseason training games.

All of this only begins to scratch the surface of the region's exploding sports industry, as we've well chronicled as developments warrant.

The number of tournaments and events span a broad spectrum of the sports world, putting Manatee County residents in close touch with the best competition there is.

And there is more coming as the Manatee County Sports Commission, IMG, Premier Sports Campus and other entities work to fill up an already loaded calendar.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service